Could an HSR strike cost someone their job?

With a possible strike looming as early as Thursday — the two sides are in talks Wednesday with a deadline of midnight — Jamie Smith is frantically working on a backup commuting plan and frustrated at city council.

The impact of an HSR strike could be more than an inconvienence for some

The HSR could be out of service as early as April 9 if the transit union and city can't reach a deal. (Adam Carter/CBC)

With the possibility of a transit strike looming, Jamie Smith is in his garage, working on fixing the brakes on a beat up bike so he can make his shift at Maple Leaf Food on Hamilton's south Mountain

"This is one of those desperate cries for help that you do on Facebook," Smith, the former program director of Mohawk's INDI 101 FM, said in good spirits.

Those of us who rely on transit simply don't have other options in some cases and will find an ongoing strike devastating.- Jeffrey Welch

He depends on Hamilton Street Rail (HSR) to get to and from work, from his home on the West Mountain to a shuttle stop that services Maple Leaf, Dempsters and Navistar at Upper Ottawa and Rymal Road.

He's one of an estimated 30,000 workers who rely on the HSR to get to and from work daily, according to McMaster University professor Marvin Ryder.

With a possible strike looming as early as Thursday — the two sides are in talks Wednesday with a deadline of midnight — Smith is frantically working on a backup plan and frustrated at city council.

"If you rely on the bus, you don't really count in Hamilton. That's pretty much the message that a lot of people right now are getting in Hamilton. So the stress that gets added onto people's daily work lives gets worse and worse because of this looming strike," Smith said.

Contingency Plans

McMaster University has 100,000 exams to administer before the end of April. With 30,000 full and part time students, the university is pushing for carpooling, carsharing, cycling and has made parking free at Lot M, and made Lot D a 'kiss 'n ride' zone. All the details on McMaster's contingency plan are here. All exams will be held as scheduled.

Mohawk College is offering free parking for carpooling (2 people or more) at a designated lot at the Fennell Campus.

Both Catholic and public school boards use the Hamilton-Wentworth Student Transportation Services (HWSTS). Some 1,900 students who use the HSR would be affected, with the majority being in the public board. A contingency plan to use school busses to transport the students along major arteries has yet to be developed, and would need at least five days to be implemented, according to Hamilton-Wentworth School Board spokesperson Jackie Penman.

Other Options

Here are a list of carpool, carshare and bikeshare options in Hamilton:

Hamilton Bike Share

Smart Commute Carpool

E-Ride Share

Campus Lifts

Community Car Share

Kijiji Carpool

City spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos cautioned that despite the midnight deadline, it "doesn't mean they will strike. It just means that is when the earliest possible date is."

Maple Leaf spokesperson David Bauer said they've kept their workforce of 700 aware of the situation, and have stressed carpooling as an alternative, adding they "will work with employees wo are directly impacted," in the case of an strike.

City, transit union, meeting Wednesday night

Like Smith, Jeffrey Welch depends on the HSR for his employment too. The separated father of two uses two buses to get from Dundas to his job at Limeridge Mall.

"This situation has the potential for far-reaching disastrous financial implications," Welch said, referring to child support payments. "Those of us who rely on transit simply don't have other options in some cases and will find an ongoing strike devastating."

30,000 workers use HSR daily: Ryder

Ryder, meanwhile, estimates 30,000 Hamiltonians use the HSR daily — a number he reached by taking annual ridership in 2013, 22-million rides, broken down into its daily average, with seniors and students taken out of the mix. 

Unfortunately for Welch and Smith, Ryder's estimation is that a short strike would actually ease traffic and save the city money — money it could give back as concessions in negotiations.

"Unfortunately for at least a day or two I don't think anyone's really going to notice," Ryder said. "It's just not essential to most people (in Hamilton)."

Coincidentally, poverty advocate Tom Cooper said roughly 30,000 people in Hamilton make up the "working poor."

He said 10,000 of them have full-time jobs. About 20,000 are working several part-time jobs — those could be especially impacted, trying to get from job to job, not just to and from work.

"Depending on where they're working this could have a significant impact on their ability to get to their jobs," Cooper said.

"I really hope local Hamilton employers remain aware of the challenges some of their employees may be facing, and be lenient in terms of the amount of time people will need to get to their jobs."

He said he hopes the Hamilton community will consider offering rides to their neighbours. Cooper said he planned to put the word out to friends and colleagues that he could give rides from his house on the Mountain to his work downtown.

No number on economic impact

Ryder couldn't comment on a possible economic impact of a potential strike. It's a number he said that would mostly be felt by commuters seeking alternate arrangements. The city would save money during a prolonged strike, a savings that would ultimately "self finance" any gains the union would archive through a strike. Ryder points out a 10-day strike would be four per cent of a year's wage, for example.

In the meantime, Smith is looking into alternate options to get to work. On Wednesday night, however, he's still planning on trying to fix the bike, just in case.

"It's freezing outside and I'm in the middle of garage and I'm trying to figure out how to hook the brakes up properly on this beat up bike," Smith said. "It could be worse, I could not have a beaten up bike."

Will a potential strike impact you? Email us at hamilton@cbc.ca to tell us your story.

With files from Kelly Bennett